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Author Topic: Challenges For Gamists  (Read 4088 times)
Roger
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« on: October 05, 2004, 07:53:36 AM »

I'm splitting this off from a different thread because I think it's a different topic, and an interesting one.

Quote from: Ravien

I think that gender could quite easily become a Gamist issue. I mean, just think about it: you are a guy, and now you are going to be playing a girl (or vice-versa). Is that not a great challenge? Sure, most games never have anything that might make that a salient challenge when playing, but if it's a challenge independant of the game, then it should be easy enough to make it a challenge within the rules of the game. Just like balancing numerical tactics is a game-independant challenge, which is often tapped into in most games.


Is this a great challenge?  Hmmm.  I'm inclined to think not.  The reason is simply this:  there's no independent, non-arbitrary standard of success or failure.

As a result of not having such a standard, there's also no resultant sense of difficulty.  Without a sense of difficulty or standard of success and failure, it's not a meaningful challenge.

In a non-RPG setting, I think this is why people with Gamist-leanings tend to be dismissive of Olympic sports such as figure skating.  The standards of success and failure do not appear to be independent or non-arbitrary.  It ceases to be a Game and becomes merely a popularity contest.

In the general sense, I suspect this is why Gamists are reluctant to correlate, for example, game mechanics and, say, narration.  There's a sense of the arbitrary if "I swing my axe" results in 1 die of damage, and "I mightily chop off off his skull with my grandfather's blade" results in 2 dice of damage.

If the system was locked down to become non-arbitrary, though, I have a hunch that Gamists might be more keen on it.  Say, 1 point for each word of description, up to a maximum of 24.  1 additional point for each adjective or adverb, up to a maximum of 12.  Now it becomes an independent measure of success or failure.  No longer is the Gamist at the mercy of the Albanian judge who isn't that fond of the Triple Lutz.

If the Gamists like it more, do non-Gamists automatically like it less?  Hard for me to say at this point without some experimental data.  Regardless, the compromise might be tolerable all around.

Of course, it's also likely that Simulationists are not keen on that example of narration influencing game mechanics either.  Which could easily result in some confusion, with people assuming that if you don't like it, you must be Simulationist or Gamist or whatnot.  Gamists are probably not helping here, since there's a good chance they will complain that such a system is not "realistic", when really that's not at the root of their complaint.

Systems which are somewhat Game-like in this respect are Lunch Money and Once Upon a Time.  Both require the player to narrate certain things at certain times.  Much of the underlying mechanics are strictly non-arbitrary, though, including the burning question of who actually wins.




Cheers,
Roger
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TonyLB
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« Reply #1 on: October 05, 2004, 08:47:58 AM »

I see a lot of this in TROS as well.  Someone more expert than myself in TROS will probably have to correct, but here's my impression:  SAs give a concrete benefit for playing to the major themes of the character, and a reasonably objective way of knowing when that benefit should be given.

And for what it's worth, I prefer narrativist play and I really dislike rules that subjectively give people roleplaying bonusses based on the judgment of the GM, or the other players, or whatever.  I like the objective standards because they let me reliably understand how the game-mechanics are going to react to the choices my character makes when addressing premise.  So you can add N to G and S in the list of CAs that can be disrupted (for some people) by arbitrary rulings.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: October 05, 2004, 09:02:01 AM »

Hello,

There's some terminological difficulty in this thread for me so far, Roger. As I read it, Ben (Ravien) was using "challenge" in a very general sense, synonymous with "difficult and interesting."

Whereas Challenge in the jargon sense refers to the imaginary situation facing characters, with the special properties of requiring the players to exhibit personal strategy and guts, in the larger context that rewards such exhibitions.

Can one's "ability" to play off-gender be a key variable in such comparative exhibitions? H'm. I wonder whether Courts and Corsets, if played to a "last one standing" victory condition, and specified that everyone plays an off-gender character, would qualify ...

Best,
Ron
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Roger
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« Reply #3 on: October 05, 2004, 10:37:56 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Can one's "ability" to play off-gender be a key variable in such comparative exhibitions?


There's a hidden trap in this sort of question, and without falling too deeply into Simulation and Simulacra, I'll try to explain what I mean.

There are at least two distinct interpretations of "ability" here:

#1.  The ability to model something to match the way it really is.

#2.  The ability to model something to match the way the other players think it is.

That's fairly abstract, so I'll try to illustrate it by referring to a couple of game shows.

#1 is Jeopardy!  "What's the capital of Texas?"  The answer is "Austin", which anyone can verify.  That's the reality.

#2 is Family Feud.  "We asked a hundred people what they thought the capital of Texas was.  What was their #1 answer?"  The answer could be just about anything.  It could be "Austin", but it could just as easily be "Dallas" or something else.

When we discuss "one's ability to play off-gender", then, what do we really mean?

#1 -- The ability to model the other gender as they really are.

#2 -- The ability to model the other gender to match the beliefs of the other players.

I'll defer that question for a moment to consider, say, "one's ability to play elves."  In this case, the answer is obviously #2.  The beliefs of the other players is all there is.  There are no real elves running around to test, so #1 isn't an option.

I'll also point out that #1 is clearly descriptive -- it describes the way things are.  But #2 has tremendous potential to become prescriptive -- to describe things the way people think they should be.  "But Dallas should be the capital of Texas!"

To get back to the question of gender, I think we're virtually in the same situation with genders as we are with elves -- #1 isn't a viable option for us.  So we're stuck with using #2.  Even if people insist they're really using #1.

Does this generally come up in RPGs?  All the time.  Virtually every game that deals with a specific "genre" deals with #2.

Consider the average Wild West RPG.  Is it trying to model what that period of time was really like?  Generally, no.  It's trying to model what everyone thinks it was like.  If someone is expecting it to model the real history of the situation, they're going to be disappointed.  Similarly, if someone picks up an RPG that does happen to model the actual history, and they're expecting it to match their preconceptions of the genre, they're also going to be disappointed.

The clearest example is in RPGs set nominally in the medieval period.  There are games all along the scale between pure-genre-accuracy and pure-history-accuracy.  Quite a lot of the criticism levelled at them is of the "this isn't true enough to the genre" or "this isn't true enough to real history" variety.

I'm also reminded of the game Vampire: The Masquerade, and a subrace of vampires called the Malkavians.  According to the rules, they're insane.  However, it's never quite entirely clear whether the rules mean insane in the sense of #1, or #2.  Whether they mean insane as defined by the DSM-IV and exemplified by the mentally ill, or insane as defined by popular culture and exemplified by Hannibal Lecter and Norman Bates.  I've seen numerous heated discussions between players who held differing opinions, although I imagine they didn't see it in quite this light.

So, this brings us back around, finally, to the question of whether Gamists tend to enjoy challenges (or Challenges) of type #2 as compared to type #1.  My hunch is that they tend to have a preference for #1 over #2 -- Gamists tend to prefer Jeopardy! over Family Feud.

But I can't paint the Gamists with too-broad a brush, here.  I need to take some ownership over this.  So I'll say that on my own behalf, personally, I greatly prefer #1 over #2.  And if #1 isn't an option, which I assert is exactly the case when trying to judge people on their ability to play off-gender, I'll tend to avoid the game entirely.




Cheers,
Roger
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timfire
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« Reply #4 on: October 05, 2004, 10:51:02 AM »

So if I understand the point you're trying to make, Roger, you're saying that a subjective challenge would be unsatisfying to a Gamist? I disagree.

My old gaming group was mostly gamist (I'm not, but they were). They *loved* playing rude, crass dwarves. [And I loved playing elves. ;) ] While it was never verbalized, it was obvious that they would each try to be the rudest, crassest dwarf they could be. And for sure, whoever happened to come up with the most outrageous stunt that day definitely got a little bit of esteem out of it.

Like I said, they never verbalized this. There were no written rules for what constituted the "rudest stunt." But whenever someone did something impressively rude, they gave that person respect.

It was an unspoken, subjective, but totally gamist challenge.

[edit] I'll also add that the narration 'quality' of said rude acts were definitely part of the whole equation.[/edit]
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #5 on: October 05, 2004, 11:32:43 AM »

I'm going to abstract this a bit.

One way I find of getting across what gamist play is about is to think in terms of the pursuit of glory. The gamist wants the other players to be impressed with his ability.

In most tabletop play, cross-gender play has nothing of this in it. You play a character of the opposite sex, and no one thinks twice about it. Did you play it well? Who cares. The questions really are did you meet the real challenges of the game effectively.

But I can imagine face-to-face play in which players would get glory from how well they were able to portray the opposite sex. Oh, man, that's exactly how my girlfriend acts. Boy, you really hit the nail on the head there. You're good.

I can imagine it because it sometimes happens on line. Guys playing MUX and Chatroom Freeform will often take the roles of girls and try to pick up guys. They'll brag to each other about how they were able to sucker others into thinking they were girls.

I think that's silly, really, because of course most of the "suckers" haven't entertained the possibility that that's an issue. I'm reminded of a quiz some MUDder posted about whether you're the "ideal girlfriend". It really was a very shallow quiz, from what I heard, looking for everything the typical MUDder would love to have in a girlfriend. The thing is, a lot of late teens/early twenties MUDder guys took this quiz and talked about how high they scored. Of course they scored high--they want everything the average MUDder guy thinks he wants in a girl. So there's a level at which seeming like a member of the opposite sex to a member of the same sex isn't that difficult; it's seeming like a member of the opposite sex to members of that sex that's challenging (Bosum Buddies used this for comic effect).

Still, there are players who consider it a fun challenge to try to play a member of the opposite sex "convincingly", and in some contexts their peers give them kudos for doing so, so it can be a source of gamist reward.

It is difficult to quantify, admittedly; but not all gamist challenges are easy to quantify. How do you gauge the difficulty of a riddle? The guy who solves it gets glory for it, and if he doesn't admit that he heard that one before people are the more impressed. It can't always be clear.

Anyway, that's my take. Usually, it's not like that, but it could be.

--M. J. Young
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Roger
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« Reply #6 on: October 06, 2004, 06:38:06 AM »

Quote from: timfire
So if I understand the point you're trying to make, Roger, you're saying that a subjective challenge would be unsatisfying to a Gamist? I disagree.


Well, yes -- you're calling me on some sloppy terminology, which I fully deserve.

"Gamist", as a term, properly only applies to techniques.  People and game systems themselves are not Gamist.  People might tend to use Gamist techniques often, which makes it tempting to call them Gamists, as I've done.  But it's not formally accurate.

So -- do people who tend to use Gamist techniques ("Gamists") always operate strictly in that mode?  I would tend to say not.  When they're not employing Gamist techniques, might they not follow goals which generally lie outside the Gamist scope?  Sure.

So, while I think Gamists qua Gamists are not interesting in such things, I certainly allow that, generally, not too many people are 100% Gamist %100 of the time.  As such, they may well exhibit other behaviours and pursue other goals beyond that scope.



Cheers,
Roger
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TonyLB
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« Reply #7 on: October 06, 2004, 06:44:27 AM »

Actually, I think Gamist as a term only applies to instances of play.

Techniques can be said to have aided or discouraged a particular CA in a particular instance of play, but I don't think that they are globally affiliated with any one CA.
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Roger
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« Reply #8 on: October 06, 2004, 06:53:06 AM »

Quote from: M. J. Young

One way I find of getting across what gamist play is about is to think in terms of the pursuit of glory.


Sure, some Gamist play involves the pursuit of glory.

Quote

But I can imagine face-to-face play in which players would get glory from how well they were able to portray the opposite sex.


Sure, this could occur, too.


This situation, as postulated here, is:

1)  Some Gamist play involves the pursuit of glory.
2)  Some portrayals of the opposite sex involves the pursuit of glory.
3)  Therefore, portrayals of the opposite sex is Gamist play.


However, I don't think the conclusion follows.  I don't think one can automatically conclude that glory-seeking play is Gamist.  

It seems to me that Narrativist play can just as commonly, if not more commonly, the pursuit of glory.

Quote

Not all gamist challenges are easy to quantify. How do you gauge the difficulty of a riddle? The guy who solves it gets glory for it, and if he doesn't admit that he heard that one before people are the more impressed.


I just think this is interesting.  In my opinion, the classic Gamist response to this is:

"Oh, a riddle, eh?  Well, my character has a 16 Intelligence and 3 skill ranks in Riddling.  I'll just roll a d20 here and see if I solve it."




Cheers,
Roger
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timfire
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« Reply #9 on: October 06, 2004, 07:19:04 AM »

Quote from: Roger
"Gamist", as a term, properly only applies to techniques.  People and game systems themselves are not Gamist.  

Err, no. A CA refers to what a person finds fun, and what they hope to get out of play.
Quote from: from the glossary
Gamism (Gamist play)
    One of the three currently-recognized Creative Agendas... See Step On Up.[/list:u]Step On Up
    Social assessment of personal strategy and guts among the participants in the face of risk. One of the three currently-recognized Creative Agendas. As a top priority of role-playing, the defining feature of Gamist play.[/list:u]Creative Agenda (CA)
    The aesthetic priorities and any matters of imaginative interest regarding role-playing.[/list:u]

Note that the definition of CA/Step-on-Up implies that its the priorities/etc of the player.

So, again, are you trying to argue that subjective challenges are unsatisfying to players who are playing Gamist?

Again I disagree. I would even argue that a lot of Gamist play is judged on subjective grounds. For example, how do you judge who has the 'best' character when everyone is playing a different job-class? What about players who purposely take on a handicap? It's likely their character won't gain as much XP as the other characters do, but for some reason that player gets alot of respect. How do you judge who has the best skill combo when there are thousands of subtle combinations?

The quantifiable elements of a given game defintiely play into the social assessment of how everyone did, but they're not the end-all.

PS: This is quickly turning into a CA discussion. There's a good chance this thread might get moved to the GNS forum
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #10 on: October 06, 2004, 05:40:24 PM »

Actually, Roger, I think that gamism, as defined, always involves the pursuit of glory. It's inherently about the reward players get from impressing each other. Narrativism is inherently about the reward players get from creating a great and meaningful story, and simulationism is inherently about the reward that comes from satisfying curiosity. This is the motivation for players to become involved in the game at all. A narrativist might get respect for doing something cool in the story, but his reward comes less from the approval of others and more from the creation of the story itself. The gamist's reward comes from impressing people (even if in a particular context he has only impressed himself, and only thinks the others should be impressed).

My argument is thus:
    [*]Any play in which players are pursuing glory is by definition gamist.[*]Some cross-gender play might be done to pursue glory.[*]Therefore, some cross-gender play might be gamist.[/list:u]

    I hope that clarifies it.

    --M. J. Young
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